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January 20, 2017  |  Film Festivals

Issue briefs on climate change, civil rights, LGTBQI, net neutrality and gender equality have disappeared from, but you can find all of these stories at Sundance 2017.

Last year’s Sundance was noteworthy for several reasons: streaming services Netflix and Amazon were the highest purchasers, cementing their place among traditional studios; Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation became the biggest sale of Sundance history; and sleeper film Manchester by the Sea is now poised for Oscar success. This year, Sundance is going in a new direction. For the first time, Sundance will include The New Climate, a subsection of programming highlighting the scope and effects of climate change, opening with the sequel to Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

In addition to climate change, Sundance 2017 will highlight several other issues including gender equality, cybersecurity, racial and criminal justice, and LGBTQ rights — and following today’s inauguration of President Trump, the timing couldn’t have been better. Check out our top picks pulled from the the full program below.

Climate Change / Environment

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (Documentary): A decade after An Inconvenient Truth brought climate change into the heart of popular culture comes the riveting follow-up, which shows both the escalation of the crisis and how close we are to a real solution.

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  • Chasing Coral (Documentary): Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers, and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world.
  • Water & Power: A California Heist (Documentary): In California’s convoluted water system, notorious water barons find ways to structure a state-engineered system to their own advantage. Exposing long-held centers of power, this film reveals small farmers and everyday citizens facing drought and a new, debilitating groundwater crisis.
  • Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman (Documentary): From the Montana Rockies to the wheat fields of Kansas and the Gulf of Mexico, families who work the land and sea are crossing political divides to find unexpected ways to protect the natural resources vital to their livelihoods. These are the new heroes of conservation, deep in America’s heartland.
  • Plastic China (Documentary): Yi-Jie, an 11-year-old girl, works alongside her parents in a recycling facility while dreaming of attending school. Kun, the facility’s ambitious foreman, dreams of a better life. Through the eyes and hands of those who handle its refuse, comes an examination of global consumption and culture.

Gender Equality

Dolores (Documentary): Dolores Huerta bucks 1950s gender conventions by cofounding the country’s first farmworkers’ union. Wrestling with raising 11 children, gender bias, union defeat and victory, and nearly dying after a San Francisco Police beating, Dolores emerges with a vision that connects her newfound feminism with racial and class justice.

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  • STEP (Documentary): With dreams of becoming the first in their families to attend college, a group of seniors from an inner-city Baltimore girls high school strives to make their step dance team a success against a backdrop of social unrest in a troubled city.
  • Beatriz at Dinner: Beatriz, an immigrant from a poor town in Mexico, has drawn on her innate kindness to build a career as a health practitioner. Doug Strutt is a cutthroat, self-satisfied billionaire. When these two opposites meet at a dinner party, their worlds collide and neither will ever be the same.
  • XX: This all-female horror anthology features four dark tales from four fiercely talented women.

Privacy / Cybersecurity

Project X (Documentary Short): Directed by Laura Poitras, Henrik Moltke. A top secret handbook takes viewers on an undercover journey to the site of a hidden partnership. Based on NSA documents, this film reveals the inner workings of a windowless skyscraper in Manhattan.

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  • NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism (Virtual Reality): A three-part exploration of black women and the roles they play in technology, society, and culture—including speculative products, immersive experiences, and neurocognitive impact research. Using fashion, cosmetics, and the economy of beauty as entry points, the project illuminates issues of privacy, transparency, identity, and perception.
  • The New Radical (Documentary): Uncompromising millennial radicals from the United States and the United Kingdom attack the system through dangerous technological means, which evolves into a high-stakes game with world authorities in the midst of a dramatically changing political landscape.

Racial / Criminal Justice

Time: The Kalief Browder Story (Documentary Series): After his arrest at age 16, Kalief Browder was imprisoned on Rikers Island without conviction for three years, two spent in solitary confinement. Two years after his release in 2013, Browder committed suicide. Produced by hip hop mogul Jay-Z, Time: The Kalief Browder Story illustrates how Browder’s death has since become a touchstone for advocates of criminal justice reform.

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  • Shots Fired (Short Form Episodic Showcase): After racially-charged shootings in a North Carolina town, an investigator digs into the cases alongside a special prosecutor. Together they seek justice while navigating the ensuing media attention and public unrest threatening the divided town.
  • The Force (Documentary): This cinema vérité look at the long-troubled Oakland Police Department goes deep inside their struggles to confront federal reform demands, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson, and an explosive scandal.
  • Whose Streets (Documentary): A nonfiction account of the Ferguson uprising told by the people who lived it, this is an unflinching look at how the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown inspired a community to fight back—and sparked a global movement.


Call Me By Your Name: During the summer of 1983 in northern Italy, 17-year-old American boy Elio meets Oliver, the 24-year-old scholar assisting Elio’s father in his research. The two embark on a complicated summer romance that echoes throughout the rest of their lives.

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  • Bayard & Me (Documentary): Walter Naegle’s boyfriend, Bayard Rustin, was a famous civil rights activist 30 years Walter’s senior. In the 1980s, Bayard decided to adopt Walter for legal protection. This love story is about a time when gay marriage was inconceivable.
  • This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous (Documentary): This groundbreaking film portrays the journey of Gigi Lazzarato, a fearless woman who began life as Gregory, posting fashion videos to YouTube from his bedroom, only to later come out as a transgender female. With never-before-seen personal footage, the film spotlights a family’s unwavering love for a child.

AndACTION is attending Sundance this year, and will be tracking these films and others for you to use in social change work. Stay tuned!


 — Mohana Kute is an intern at AndACTION.